For our second Olympic blog post in the series, we are featuring figure skating! Across all skating events, China won gold in pairs figure skating, men's 1000m and mixed team relay in short track speed skating, and men’s 500m in speed skating, while Team USA has secured two gold medals in men's single figure skating and women’s 500m in speed skating.
Today, we are highlighting the athletes and performances from China and Team USA that stole the show, with American figure skater Nathan Chen and Chinese pair skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
Team USA’s Nathan Chen has emerged as the world’s best figure skater after winning gold in men’s single skating at this year's Winter Olympics, scoring a total of 332.60 points, more than 20 points higher than silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama from Japan.
This is the first Olympic gold medal for Chen, who finished in fifth place overall at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Despite his positioning, in 2018 he became the one to watch when he broke a world record becoming the first male skater to land six quadruple jumps in a single program, earning the highest free skate score ever in Olympic competition. Before coming to Beijing, Chen had won six consecutive national figure skating championships, something that has not been done since the 1940s.
Outside of his athletic achievements, Chen is currently a student at Yale University, majoring in statistics and data science. Chen was able to maintain a full course load while attending, and winning, nine different skating competitions leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics. While he took a brief break from school to prepare and compete in this year's winter Olympics, Chen plans to return to his studies for the upcoming fall semester.
Nathan Chen first began figure skating at the age of three in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah. He is the youngest of five siblings and was encouraged by his older siblings to try a variety of activities growing up, ranging from ballet to piano, but figure skating was always his favorite. At the age of sixteen, Chen began competing in national championships, where he soon became the first American man to land two quadruple jumps in his short program and four jumps in his free skate.
For Chen, 2022 was a chance not just to break another record but to finally prove he could win gold. Chen was the last to perform, skating to a medley of Elton John songs. “I never thought I would actually be able to make this happen,” Chen said to the New York Times. “It’s hard. It’s always been a dream, of course. It’s a pretty daunting mountain.”
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong
Performing in their home country of China, pairs figure skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won the Olympic gold medal in pairs figure skating. The duo scored a world record-breaking 155.47 points, beating out their Russian competitors by only 63-hundredths of a point. Sui and Han’s highly anticipated performance to “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel was the second world record the pair broke at the 2022 games, having also set the world record for the short program earlier in the week.
Sui and Han went into this year’s Olympic games ready to test the boundaries, being the only pair to attempt a quadruple twist, a skill that won them the highest technical score for an element of the entire competition.
The 2022 Winter Olympics was a chance for redemption for the pair, who lost gold in Pyeongchang by only 43-hundredths of a point to Germany. Sui and Han are the first to win China the gold in pairs figure skating since 2010, when renowned skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo broke Russia’s 46-year winning streak at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. Shen now serves as the president of the Chinese Figure Skating Association, and Zhao is the head coach of China’s national figure skating team, coaching Sui and Han to this year's gold.
Sui and Han are beloved in China and have been given the nickname “Bucket of Scallion” by fans on Weibo, referring to Cong’s name sounding similar to scallion in mandarin, and Sui saying back when she was a teenager that her body resembles a barrel. The athletes, now in their mid-twenties, are both from Harbin and have been skating together as a pair since childhood.
The victory for the pair was more than fifteen years in the making. Both Sui and Han said the years, and weeks leading up to their gold medal win were challenging, with both athletes having to recover from injuries and surgeries. Sui had to re-learn how to walk, and skate, after a devastating ankle injury, and just last year, Han had surgery on his hip, forcing him to miss the first part of Olympic training. “First of all, I think this is an unforgettable night,” said Han in a news conference. “We realized our dreams in our homeland.”
The 2022 Winter Olympics was full of victories and triumphs for figure skating fans all around the world, and a particularly memorable event for Chinese and American skaters as well. Click here to watch the full gold medal performances of Nathan Chen, and Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, and be sure to look out for our final blog post of this Olympic series summarizing all the successes and celebrations of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.